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  • John Garen, PhD

Are you a terrorist?

By John Garen, PhD


For all the parents of school kids out there, I am dumbfounded to note that you have been under attack over the past several weeks. As you’ve probably noticed, parents are strongly – and sometimes harshly – criticizing school boards and administrators over a host of matters, including the teaching of Critical Race Theory, gender and transgender issues, sexual images in the classroom, mask and vaccine mandates, and remote learning. Other parents are working more quietly behind the scenes to find better options for their kids and/or to promote more options for all families. In other words, parents are being good parents.


But the National School Boards Association (NSBA) doesn’t think so. In fact, the NSBA sent a letter to President Biden complaining of the harsh criticisms of school boards and characterized it as follows: “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” (See page 2 of the letter, last paragraph.)


And here is what NSBA wants: “NSBA specifically solicits the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses.” (See page 2, 2nd paragraph.)


Northern Virginia seemed to be ground zero for many parent protests, prompting Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe to declare, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”


No doubt that many, many parents are deeply upset about public schools. And somewhere in the entire country, it’s likely that a few irate parents went out-of-bounds in their dealings with school officials. But how that somehow translates into domestic terrorism is beyond comprehension, much less the need to call in the full force of federal law enforcement or to claim that parents should not be involved with what is taught to their children.


Incredibly, in response to the NSBA letter, the Attorney General of the United States issued a memo – with no supporting evidence to back claims of increased violence against school officials – committing Department of Justice resources to help in “addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff . . .”. So the NSBA rants that you might be a terrorist and the Department of Justice takes it seriously!? Are you kidding me!?


Unfortunately, this commentary is beginning to sound like a rant as well. And I don’t have any grand analysis for you regarding this bizarre and disturbing set of events. But they provide all the more reason to deeply change our schooling system. Many education bureaucrats and political leaders don’t seem interested in your complaints and, it appears, would rather sic the feds on you than address your concerns, all the while claiming that the schooling of your kids is not your business. This speaks ever more clearly to the need to devolve decision-making power out of the educational bureaucracy and into the hands of parents. This entails school choice, school competition, and money following the kids. Within such a system, if your children’s school isn’t working, you can readily find other options to your liking and just move them. One school administration’s attempt to threaten and bully you would simply not work and be foolish to try.


I think we are making progress in this regard. One sign is that candidate McAuliffe lost the gubernatorial race to a candidate friendly to school choice. Another is that U.S. Attorney General Garland was roundly criticized for his reaction to the NSBA letter. Moreover, a spate of new school choice legislation passed this year (with more likely to come in 2022) and there seems to be a groundswell of interest in private schools and homeschooling.


Also, if it makes a difference, I’d like to reassure you that you are not a terrorist and that you have every right to stand up to school boards and administrators. And I applaud you for your continuing efforts on behalf of your kids and for school kids everywhere. Keep up the noble work of being good parents!


John Garen, PhD, is BB&T Professor of Economics at the University of Kentucky. He is a policy advisor for Commonwealth Educational Opportunities.